by Raffaele Crocco

90 weeks of war between Ukraine and Russia have not silenced the anti-war voices. Despite the repression – exercised by both governments – and despite the lack of publicity, news continues to emerge. Perhaps instrumentally, by occasionally assigning the role of villain to those who harshly repress pacifists. The Vasileostrovsky District Court in St Petersburg found pacifist artist Sasha Skochilenko guilty of spreading false news about the Russian army. She was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony. The prosecution had asked the court to sentence the artist to eight years, while the defence had pleaded for acquittal. Skochilenko was arrested in April last year after a rather original performance. She had replaced supermarket price tags with others that told the story of the war in Ukraine. Now, after a year and a half in prison, she is about to serve her sentence, and her lawyers are worried: the woman is ill and it will be impossible for her to receive proper care where she will be.

A sad story, adding to the too many untold around the pacifist movement trying to make an alternative voice to that of arms heard in Russia and Ukraine, without resonance in international media. But something is about to change. Perhaps the war is beginning to show that ‘the situation for Ukraine is difficult’. This was admitted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg when he met the President of Latvia, Edgars Rinkēvičs. This contrasts with what the NATO chief himself said just a few weeks ago when he declared that the Ukrainian offensive, though slow, was succeeding and that the Russian armies were in obvious trouble. Indeed, on the eve of a bitter winter, Ukraine’s overall resilience is being challenged by those wishing for a smooth 2024 presidential election and those noting the economy’s relentless decline.

A complex situation, just as the Russian army regained the initiative by attacking the industrial city of Avdiivka on the eastern front. Armoured vehicles and troops were deployed in the area, targeting the industrial zone and bombarding it with artillery around the clock. The city has already been virtually destroyed by the bombing. The citizens have known about this war since 2014, since the beginning. Of the 30,000 inhabitants at the time, just over 1,400 remain, scattered among the rubble and ruins. The Ukrainian command has said that the army is holding its positions, but Russian pressure is increasing.

Civilians remain the main protagonists in this war. It is they who are the most affected, with the fighting being concentrated mainly in the cities. The city of Kherson, recaptured by Ukrainian forces a year ago, is under constant fire from Russian artillery positioned on the opposite bank of the Dnipro. In the last 48 hours, at least one man has died and one woman has been seriously injured.

Arms remain the main actors in the foolish immobility of international diplomacy. With spectacles that are bizarre, to say the least, the great powers continue to play their cards on the Ukrainians. The latest one was staged by US President Biden. He met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. On the table were sensitive issues for world peace, such as an end to the war in Ukraine, a solution to what is happening in Gaza and the future of Taiwan. On leaving the meeting, Biden openly referred to his Chinese counterpart as a ‘dictator’, embarrassing his staff and irritating Xi’s entourage. A real disaster, as Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Putin’s press secretary, calmly commented. “I would not comment on such a statement,” he said, “for us, the most important thing is true friendship, the relations of mutual respect that exist between the leaders of China and the Russian Federation. And we value those relations”.